This morning I substituted for my pastor in two services—an early service that is traditional in format and a later service that has more of a praise and worship format. This, of course, required a change in attire—dark suit, white shirt, and tie in the early service, open neck shirt, sport coat and khakis in the later service. This is not a problem for me; I am comfortable either way.
I don’t preach on a regular basis, so when I do I am particularly sensitive to the response of the congregation—especially the “real-time” feedback. In each service, I knew many of the folks who were listening and may have tended to concentrate more on individual responses. Since I really like teaching more than preaching due to the opportunity for oral feedback and dialogue, when I preach I tend to look for some glimmer of response—the head nod of agreement, the quick smile of recognition, the questioning look around the eyes, the mixed response to (what I think are) clever comments or allusions. Of course, I also notice the closed eyes of the saints who have been driven to meditation by my thrilling message!
After such an experience, I am reminded what a challenge the preaching ministry is, especially when done before the same group of people on a weekly basis. Within most congregations there are usually people representing five generations, three worldviews (print, broadcast, and digital), numerous geographic origins, and a wide variety of educational backgrounds. The preacher is challenged to say something meaningful that will have some impact on each of these individuals.
Because of this, I think of preaching as a humbling experience for a mere mortal. I am glad that I am not called to do it every week. The good preacher is an artist who seeks to relate a biblical text to a particular group of people through the creative use of speech. All of this is (hopefully) infused by the presence and power of God’s Spirit.
I admire those who have nurtured or developed the skills to do this in an effective way. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, preaching is still the central act of worship in most of our churches. We need to find every way to encourage those who attempt the task on a weekly basis.